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Elmer Bernstein

April 4, 1922 - August 18, 2004
born in New York, NY, composed during the Contemporary period
If Elmer Bernstein had realized his childhood aspirations, he might have been a concert pianist. Instead, he has been a major force in film music and popular culture for more than fifty years.

Bernstein showed a consuming interest in the piano at an early age. When Bernstein was thirteen, his music teacher arranged an audition for Aaron Copland, who in turn arranged for Bernstein to study with one of his own students. Bernstein enrolled at the Juilliard School as a piano student and also took up composition, for which his teachers included Stefan Wolpe and Roger Sessions. Assigned to an army entertainment unit during World War II, Bernstein first worked as an arranger of traditional American songs for Glenn Miller, which led to a chance to compose for Armed Forces Radio. Bernstein wrote the music for more than eighty broadcasts and wanted to pursue a career as a composer once the war was over. His break came in 1949 when he was commissioned to write the score for a UN radio program on the founding of the State of Israel, which led to an offer to write music for NBC. That, in turn, got Bernstein a chance to come to Hollywood as a film composer.

Bernstein's professional breakthrough took place in 1955 with Otto Preminger's film The Man With The Golden Arm, a drama dealing with drug addiction. Bernstein's jazz-based score proved popular with the public and critics and was the first of his film music to get an album release, as well as receiving an Oscar nomination. The next major milestone in Bernstein's career came in 1960, when he was engaged to score John Sturges' western The Magnificent Seven. It was here that Bernstein got to put his love of folk music into play: in a manner not far removed from Aaron Copland, he utilized the melodic characteristics of cowboy and traditional Mexican music in composing a sweeping orchestral score. The main title theme quickly took on a life of its own when the makers of Marlboro cigarettes licensed it for a series of commercials that ran for a decade, making it perhaps the most widely heard piece of movie music in history. Bernstein's work during the 1960s ran the gamut from sensitive dramas like To Kill A Mockingbird to such rousing adventure yarns as The Great Escape. He won a 1968 Oscar for his score for Thoroughly Modern Millie. In the early 1970s, Bernstein formed his own record label, Filmmusic Collection, and used it to make new recordings (usually with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London) of film scores that weren't otherwise available, including Miklos Rozsa's music for The Thief of Baghdad and Bernard Herrmann's unused score for Torn Curtain.

In 1977, Bernstein's career took an unexpected turn when he was asked by director John Landis to score the comedy National Lampoon's Animal House. Having never scored a comedy before, the composer hesitated, but Landis said that he wanted the kind of sweeping music that Bernstein was known for. The mix of his dignified music underscoring the film's physical comedy lent a depth to the humor of the movie; other filmmakers liked what they heard, and he has since written the music for such comedies as Airplane and Ghostbusters. At the same time, his status as the dean of living soundtrack composers made Bernstein the first choice for many high profile, serious films, including Martin Scorsese's remake of the 1960 thriller Cape Fear (for which Bernstein rescored Bernard Herrmann's original music) and The Age of Innocence. He remains active in the new century in both film and television music. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

ken.hall136
Stupid autocorrect, I meant HEARD OF!!!
ken.hall136
Oh, come on. He's one of the best I've ever heated!
chuckbumgard n e r
John Williams was way better ya know...
chuckbumgard n e r
He wasn't the GREATEST composer guys!

chuckbumgard n e r
I love this one love the movie too!
chuckbumgard n e r
hmm nice
WOW!
The Ten Commandments is one of my favorite ones that he did! :D :D :D And I love the movie...
OMG. . . This is my all-time FAVORITE piece of movie music. . . so evocative of the childhood innocence of the story. And. . . you should hear the diversity in Bernstein's other scores: The Great Escape, Heavy Metal, Rambling Rose and The Grifters, not too mention the legendary The Ten Commandments .
Have a cd of his compositions , including a piece for the film Heavy Metal (????) that is stunning. Also the themes to Hawaii, Mockingbird (of course), Rambling Rose, and several others. He was brilliant!!
The music for To Kill a Mockingbird is my favourite Elmer Bernstein composition.
How blessed are we to have composers and arrge. in OUR lifetime to enjoy!
simplman2005
I loved his score for the motion picture Kings Of The Sun which seems to sadly be lacking on Pandora. Maybe they will get it?
Bernstein was a class act-talented , upbeat and a gentleman. The world of film scoring is lesser since his passing. RIP Elmer...
Is ffity (sic) years a long time?
I was writing a paper on the very same book when his music (the album is obvious) came on. Cool.
Love the musical rendition of the movie soundtrack, I can envision young Scout, even now.
I've fell in love with his music since I was 12 and I'll never forget the man and his music. I'm glade to have live in his lifetime and enjoyed his music everytime I was at the movies. I really missed him.
We need The Iron Giant.

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